While I’ve been spending a lot of my time lately working on E-books, I decided it was time to start translating and posting a new series on STJ. Translating series was something I did heavily a few years ago, and has some advantages to E-books, particularly how there are little bursts of satisfaction with each chapter (typically released every one or two weeks) instead of just once at the end of the project.
A few months ago I did a detailed survey of several sites that showcase Japanese fiction, including Kakuyomu and Shousetsuka ni Narou. There is a massive amount of content on these sites, but by sifting through story titles and descriptions (often based on keyword searches) I was able to find which stories I want to try reading, and then further prune from there. Some stories I stopped reading after a few paragraphs; others I finished, only to be disappointed by the ending. Some stories I enjoyed, but one reason or another decided not to pursue. For example, one story was well-written but had a very dark ending that I thought might disturb some readers.
I made a list of the top stories I thought were good candidates for me to translate and “Past, Present, You” was very high on that list. Fortunately I was able to contact the author and get permission to translate and publish it on my blog.
Before I present the first chapter I wanted to mention that I placed a description of the story at the end of this post. For those who like reading the description first, you can start there. This description is my translation of the original Japanese description of the story as listed on Kakuyomu here. By the way, the original Japanese title of the story is “時を追う、君の影”, which literally means something like “Your Shadow, Following Time.” While I like this title, I felt it could use a little tweaking in English, and after some thought I decided on “Past, Present, You”, which the author agreed upon.
I want to thank the author, Yuki Hoshizaki (星崎ゆうき) for giving me permission to translate and publish this chapter here, as well as Yeti san (from the site Shousetsu Ninja) for performing a quality check on this chapter. You can find the original Japanese text of this chapter here.
Because of the large amount of time it takes to translate even a single chapter, as well as my desire to focus on content that my readers enjoy, I consider this translation to be in a provisional state. So if you enjoy it, please consider liking or commenting here, or rating/commenting on novelupdates.com (see this story’s page here). Twitter likes, comments or retweets are also great (use this). I will also accept feedback on this story at the email address “selftaughtjapanese (at) com”, and commentary will be forwarded to the author as needed.
Past, Present, You
by Yuki Hoshizaki
Translated by J.D. Wisgo
“All sorrows can be borne if you put them into a story or tell a story about them.” ― Isak Dinesen
–– Mizuki’s Viewpoint ––
Chapter 1: June 30 (morning)
A color is missing from this world. I’ve felt this way for the longest time. I can’t say exactly what color it is, but ever since I was young I thought it was this missing shade that made everything around me seem flat and empty.
“An inbound train will be arriving momentarily at track five. Please remain behind the yellow line.”
The mechanical station announcement brings with it a semblance of normality, the first I’ve felt in a long time. Even though the worst congestion should have already been over with, uniformed middle and high schoolers, along with men and women in dress shirts, probably on their way to work, pass busily through the ticket gates and on towards the platform.
The surge of people––everyone wearing the same clothes, riding the same trains, and getting off at the same stations––hopelessly disgusts me. Our society touts the importance of diversity, but in the end almost everyone behaves like everyone else, spending 24 hours a day on the same kind of schedule.
To begin with, if there are 60 seconds in a minute, and 60 minutes in an hour, then why are there 24 hours in a day? I think the decimal system is probably the most commonly used number system in the world, and the number 10 is easy to intuitively comprehend. So, if you really think about it, aren’t numbers like 64 and 24 unnatural? Now that I mention it, there are 12 months in a year––another example where the decimal number system is not employed. It’s safe to say that dividing up a day into 24 equal parts is just somebody’s idea. Dividing it into 20 parts should have been just as good, and it’s not like there is much of a clear reason or basis behind how we divide up things.
From somewhere comes a faint voice, drowned out by the sound of a train roaring by right in front of me. A train whistle and the sound of brakes slowing a train car echo off the gray walls of the station, and when my arm is suddenly pulled from behind I finally realize the voice is part of reality.
I turn around to see my arm being tightly gripped by a petite girl wearing a plain white short-sleeved blouse and pale blue long skirt fluttering in the wind. The frontmost train car that just passed before our eyes bullets through the space above the track, ruffling our bangs with a burst of air.
“What is it?”
In response to my question, she stares back at me with an expression like she is about to burst into tears. Her striking eyes make time stop for a moment. Soon the train comes to rest at its assigned location, and in an instant the frozen time melts and crowds of people are packing me into the train cars.
“Please wait a minute.”
After shouting this she grabs my arm even tighter, as if resisting the surge of people. It is like a force––or perhaps a plea––struggling to recover diversity. This thought suddenly comes to me, and I am unable to look away from her large eyes.
“What are you…trying to do?”
Perhaps we’re outside of time, just the tiniest bit. Before I know it the train is speeding away, few signs of life remaining in the station. And yet, just like the ebb and flow of the tide, I am sure that soon enough this place will be overflowing with people again.
“You don’t…you don’t remember me, do you?”
I’m not the type of person who has too many friends. I won’t say that I’ve never went out with a girl, but there was nobody I would be comfortable calling a girlfriend. That’s why there is no way this girl standing before me is hidden away somewhere in my memory. Without responding I turn back towards the track to wait for the next train.
“I’m really sorry. But I have a request.”
I risk a glance at her, standing right next to me so that our shoulders are lined up. Looking slightly downwards because of her short stature, I say only, “Why?” Assuming I am planning to actually attend school today, she just made me miss the train and now she wants to waste my time. What the hell is she thinking? It isn’t like I wanted to go to school. But I’ve nearly missed too many days to graduate.
“I may not look it but I’m a high school student. Are you trying to make me skip school?”
“Please, I’m begging you!”
Seeing the tears flowing down her cheeks and a great determination at odds with her appearance, I reluctantly leave the train platform. Going against the crowd, I walk with her up the stairs leading to the concourse. It is already muggy, despite being morning. That reminds me, June is nearly over.
“Please stay with me here, just for a little while.”
I follow her gaze to a small café up ahead. We are in one of those typical shopping areas inside of a station with restaurants, bookstores, and convenience stores. Inside the café, several people in business suits sip at coffee cups while tapping away on their laptops.
I let out a long sigh and glance at my watch. It is clear I’m going to miss first period, but if I don’t at least get to school by third period there will probably be an effect on my attendance count.
“As long as it’s only for a little while…”
She says this with a small bow, then passes through the automatic door into the café. After staring at the menu board for a few moments, the smell of coffee in the air, she walks up to the counter and turns to look at me. “Is ice coffee alright with you?” I nod slowly, then take in my surroundings. The dark-toned interior is illuminated by orange indirect lighting, producing a calm atmosphere that starkly contrasts with the hectic mood of the station.
I put the two ice coffees she ordered onto a tray along with gum syrup, straws, and milk, and carry everything to a table that seats two near a window in the back of the café.
“So tell me. What’s your name?”
She must be around my age, or on second thought maybe a little younger. I sit on the edge of a wooden chair with my arms crossed and look outside the window. The bustling flow of people make it apparent that the morning rush is not yet over.
For an instant she looks surprised by my question. Then I guess she realizes we haven’t properly introduced each other yet.
“I’m Sora. Sora Itono.”
Sora Itono. Definitely not a name I’ve ever heard before.
“Ok…and I’m Mizuki Aiba.”
“I’m sorry for being so sudden. But there was nothing else I could do.”
Nothing else you could do?
Struggling to understand this girl’s perplexing behavior, I can’t help but sigh softly.
“What is going on here?”
Sora’s only response to my question is to look downwards, avoiding eye contact with me. I hear the sound of ice crumbling inside of my glass and poke the straw into my ice coffee. Sipping at it, I glance again once more at the station concourse through the café window.
“Hmm…maybe the train got delayed…”
Hearing my voice, Sora looks out the window too. A station attendant repeatedly gestures at an electronic billboard, apparently busy handling questions from passengers. When I glance at the billboard, there is an announcement about the next train being significantly delayed.
“Seems there was a derailment accident. A train failed to make a curve and collided with a high-rise apartment building.”
My ears involuntarily perk up at the conversation of two guys in suits sitting behind us. Here in Japan––a country where the railway system is considered to be extremely safe––train derailments don’t occur very often; not to mention an accident where a derailed train smashes into an apartment building, something normally considered impossible.
“There’s no estimate for when the trains will resume operation. Well, I guess we’re not going to get much work done today…oh, I’m going to call the office.”
Out of the corner of my eye I follow the man as he gets up and walks away. I still can’t believe this is actually happening.
Sora nods and repeats quietly, “There was nothing else I could do.”
“You…actually knew that the train I was going to get on was going to…”
“Derail after failing to make the curve, then crash into an apartment building along the track…”
Does this mean that, in other words, she was able to predict an event in the future? Or was it simply a coincidence? No, judging from her inexplicable behavior today, she clearly seemed to be aware of what was going to happen.
“I gotta go. Sorry to be so sudden again. I’ll leave what I owe here.”
With that, Sora stands up and quickly heads for the exit.
“Hey, hold on…so you’re saying that…”
She exits the café without a word, leaving me standing there dumbfounded.
So you’re saying that you saw the future?
[end of chapter]
The past is inextricably mixed up with the present. What we perceive in the present invokes the past buried within in our memories, forming the experience of here and now––our reality itself.
Indeed, our world is comprised of more than just objective reality; it is also a narrative woven from memories of the past that have been filtered by the sieve of our interests.
To what degree is a story just a story, and to what degree is it real?
Just as the world of a movie is a narrative, physical phenomena are also a kind of narrative. Events we experience are cut and reshaped by our personal interests, and the fragments of the events resulting from this process are, in time, made into a story using the mechanism we call “interpretation”. By nature, there is no clearly defined boundary between fiction and fact.
My days with her were a type of story, but they were also an irrevocable reality.
[English Translation of chapter and description Copyright © 2019 by J.D. Wisgo]